Export binaries

Did you know that you can use Docker to build your application to standalone binaries? Sometimes, you don’t want to package and distribute your application as a Docker image. Use Docker to build your application, and use exporters to save the output to disk.

The default output format for docker build is a container image. That image is automatically loaded to your local image store, where you can run a container from that image, or push it to a registry. Under the hood, this uses the default exporter, called the docker exporter.

To export your build results as files instead, you can use the local exporter. The local exporter saves the filesystem of the build container to the specified directory on the host machine.

Export binaries

To use the local exporter, pass the --output option to the docker build command. The --output flag takes one argument: the destination on the host machine where you want to save the files.

The following commands exports the files from of the server target to the current working directory on the host filesystem:

$ docker build --output=. --target=server .

Running this command creates a binary at ./bin/server. It’s created under the bin/ directory because that’s where the file was located inside the build container.

$ ls -l ./bin
total 14576
-rwxr-xr-x  1 user  user  7459368 Apr  6 09:27 server

If you want to create a build that exports both binaries, you can create another build stage in the Dockerfile that copies both of the binaries from each build stage:

  # syntax=docker/dockerfile:1
  FROM golang:${GO_VERSION}-alpine AS base
  WORKDIR /src
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod/ \
      --mount=type=bind,source=go.sum,target=go.sum \
      --mount=type=bind,source=go.mod,target=go.mod \
      go mod download -x

  FROM base as build-client
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod/ \
      --mount=type=bind,target=. \
      go build -o /bin/client ./cmd/client

  FROM base as build-server
  ARG APP_VERSION="0.0.0+unknown"
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod/ \
      --mount=type=bind,target=. \
      go build -ldflags "-X main.version=$APP_VERSION" -o /bin/server ./cmd/server

  FROM scratch AS client
  COPY --from=build-client /bin/client /bin/
  ENTRYPOINT [ "/bin/client" ]

  FROM scratch AS server
  COPY --from=build-server /bin/server /bin/
  ENTRYPOINT [ "/bin/server" ]
+ FROM scratch AS binaries
+ COPY --from=build-client /bin/client /
+ COPY --from=build-server /bin/server /

Now you can build the binaries target using the --output option to export both the client and server binaries.

$ docker build --output=bin --target=binaries .
$ ls -l ./bin
total 29392
-rwxr-xr-x  1 user  user  7581933 Apr  6 09:33 client
-rwxr-xr-x  1 user  user  7459368 Apr  6 09:33 server


This section has demonstrated how you can use Docker to build and export standalone binaries. These binaries can be distributed freely, and don’t require a container runtime like the Docker daemon.

The binaries you've generated so far are Linux binaries. That's because the build environment is Linux. If your host OS is Linux, you can run these files. Building binaries that work on Mac or Windows machines requires cross-compilation. This is explored later on in this guide.

Related information:

Next steps

The next topic of this guide is testing: how you can use Docker to run application tests.